I was facilitating a music therapy session for children with multiple needs at an elementary school and it had been a great session. After we sang the “Goodbye Song”, a substitute teacher, who had never experienced a music therapy session before, looked at me with a face full of exuberance and asked, “Do you have to go to school to do this?”. “Yes”, I responded, “Music therapy is a four year Bachelor’s degree or equivalency. Then you have to complete a six month internship and pass a certification exam in order to become board certified. They are even talking about eventually making it a Masters level entry position”. Her face dropped. Her plans of walking into the room as a substitute teacher and walking out as a music therapist had been derailed. Music therapists make hard work look easy.
Almost every day, someone looks at my bright red wagon full of instruments and movement props and says, “Looks like fun!”. I agree wholeheartedly…music therapy is fun, but there’s also a lot of thought, preparation and even physical labor involved in making a session work and look effortless. So, what do we do besides play the guitar and make people smile?
Design music based interventions to work on non-musical goals. What does that mean? When I first began working with Mary, she threw an object as soon as it was placed in her hand. This prevented her from learning to write, draw, clean up, sort objects, etc. Since she was motivated by the drum, we used a lollipop drum and mallet to help her improve the length of time she would hold an object. Lollipop drums are awesome and so much fun to play! It took the better part of a school year, but she eventually was able to play the drum independently and stopped throwing the mallet. That led to her being able to generalize this skill so that she no longer throws objects and has been able to build on this skill set.
As soon as a music therapist walks into a room, they assess the situation and their clients in order to determine how to best meet their needs. I’ve walked into rooms where people are sleeping and I’ve also walked into rooms where they are bouncing off of the walls. Helping someone to regulate their bodies and get focused at the beginning of a session will make the session more beneficial and help them have more success.
Embrace flexibility! This is a big one. Anyone can walk into a room with a plan and stick to it no matter what is happening around them. Music therapists adjust in the moment to meet their clients needs. If we’re using a fast tempo and find that someone can’t keep up, we’ll slow it down so they have success. Perhaps that same fast tempo is causing someone to become overstimulated. We can help guide them back to a calm body.
Build the therapist/client relationship: After weekends filled with visits from their families or outings, Mondays can be very depressing for my longterm residents at an healthcare facility. Residents may come to sessions quiet, sleeping or agitated. They were very hesitant to participate when I first began working with them. Over time, we’ve gotten to know each other and they now feel comfortable participating in sessions and expressing their feelings. Using preferred songs and movement props like the stretchy band, we literally connect to each other which decreases feelings of loneliness and improves their mood.
These are just a few things that we do in order to create sessions that appear seamless and fun. Want to learn more? Email me at Linda@RWmusictherapy.com!